As a way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, this space gets you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT, or NBATV each week.
Clippers at Pacers
The Clippers visit Indiana with an 8-2 record over their last 10 games. They enter the week in second place in the Western Conference and this is with all-around aggressive load management for Kawhi Leonard and not having Paul George for the first few weeks of the season. How is Doc Rivers making it work? By regularly using a 10-man rotation where everyone averages at least 16 minutes and no more than 31 minutes. The reserve group led by Sixth Man of the Year candidates Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell is deep and versatile. Even when Leonard misses games, as he has six times already this season, LA doesn’t really skip a beat.
Indiana is doing what they do: winning games without Victor Oladipo. Like the Clippers, the Pacers are 8-2 over their last 10 games and are up to a 15-8 record. And Indiana has done it despite not just missing Oladipo, but Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and others have also missed time. Kevin Pritchard has built a roster for Nate McMillan that has shooters and a bunch of players who play hard every game. Much like last year, the Pacers are hanging around, but this time around the return of their best player is looming versus being a season-ending story.
Wizards at Hornets
This would have been Nuggets at 76ers, but TNT wisely picked that game up. Unfortunately, that leaves the League Pass slate a little light. On the plus side, it’s a great chance to check out the high-scoring Wizards against the surprisingly not-awful Hornets.
Washington has been one of the more entertaining teams to watch all season because they score points all over the place, and they let up points at a crazy pace as well. As it stands today, the Wizards have the 30thDefensive Rating and it is 2.5 points worse than the 29th team. That’s means shootouts every game. You know all about Bradley Beal’s offensive brilliance, but Davis Bertans and Moritz Wagner have been knocking down shots from behind the arc, and rookie Rui Hachimura looks like the real deal.
Charlotte has been led by the second-year surge from Devonte’ Graham. Graham has upped his scoring by 14.1 points per game to 18.8. He’s also averaging 7.8 assists per game, up from 2.6 assists as a rookie. And to top it off, Graham is has become a marksman at 41.5% from behind the arc. He’s combined with Terry Rozier and young forwards Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington to give Charlotte some much-needed hope for the future.
Lakers at Magic
Entering the week, the Lakers have the NBA’s best record at 21-3. By any measure, they’ve been dominant. 14-1 over their last 15 games is probably the best understanding of that dominance. Anthony Davis is coming off a 50-point night against the Timberwolves, and looks every bit the part of an MVP candidate. LeBron James has rebounded from a down, injury-filled year, and the team’s role players fit in perfectly around the two stars. Kyle Kuzma is the only other player averaging in double-figures in points (11.1), but six other players’ average is between 7.0 and 9.6 points. It’s the type of deep roster of shooters and defenders you need around James and Davis.
The Orlando Magic have rebounded from a poor to start to get to be .500 entering the week behind one of the league’s best defenses. A tough week looms though, with matchups at Milwaukee and then hosting the Lakers and Rockets before a trip to the Pelicans on Sunday. Part of what keyed Orlando’s surprising playoff run last season was beating good teams. If the Magic can manage even a split this week, considering they’ll likely be without All-Star Nikola Vucevic, it’d be a successful week.
Mavericks at Pistons (Mexico City)
Luka Doncic and the surging Mavs take their act south of the border to play the Pistons in Mexico City. Dallas is 8-2 over their last 10 games entering the week and has the NBA’s best offense. The Mavericks also have three wins of 40 or more points already this season. Doncic keys the attack, but he’s getting lots of help from Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. More than those two however, are the contributions from underrated bigs like Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber and a deep guard group that includes Delon Wright, Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson.
Detroit is scuffling as they’ve worked through multiple injury issues to just about every primary contributor outside of Andre Drummond. Blake Griffin looks like he’s rounding back into All-NBA form, and the Pistons guards have been a pleasant surprise. Youngsters Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown have played well as the starting backcourt, while Langston Galloway is providing scoring and shooting off the bench at 12.3 points on 42.5% from deep. Derrick Rose has been solid as a reserve when he’s been able to play and Reggie Jackson should eventually return to provide more help. To top it off, Drummond is putting together a monster contract-year, as he’s averaging 17.7 points, 17.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. It’s been a struggle to start the year, but Detroit is mostly-healthy now and starting to make some noise.
Bucks at Grizzlies
Milwaukee is steamrolling teams on a nightly basis. They have a +13.6 scoring differential and have won 14 games in a row entering the week. With home games against the Magic and Pelicans, the Bucks could be on a 16-game streak when they get to Memphis. It’s not only all Giannis Antetokounmpo either, even though he’s been great. Milwaukee has had 12 players contribute in the rotation throughout the year and all 12 of those players are averaging at least 5.0 points per game. No matter who Mike Budenholzer calls upon, they step up and help the Bucks keep it rolling.
The Grizzlies are starting to get healthy again. Ja Morant recently missed some time, but should return to the lineup this week. Morant’s Rookie of the Year campaign is off to a great start, as he’s at 18.6 points and 6.4 assist per game. He’s also shooting a somewhat surprising 41% on three-pointers on 2.3 attempts per game. Morant leads a collection of fun, young talent in Memphis. Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen and Marko Guduric have all had moments this season. The best part? Every player mentioned here is in their age-24 season or younger.
Thunder at Nuggets
The Nuggets will be in game two of a five-game homestand following an East Coast trip. Denver remains one of the league’s best defensive teams, but the offense is still figuring things out. They’ve started to lean on Nikola Jokic in the post a bit more and it’s had encouraging results. Jamal Murray is also scoring, as is Will Barton. The challenge is that the rest of the offense has been come-and-go. Paul Millsap is doing his thing, but he’s not a guy you can get 20 shot attempts a night anymore, while Gary Harris all too often is missing in action. But the biggest issue of all is that a great bench from last year has played so-so thus far. But the sky is far from falling in Denver, as the Nuggets are still right in the mix for the two seed behind the Lakers.
Oklahoma City is starting to come on after a summer of roster changes. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the way, while veterans Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari have proven they still have plenty left in the tank. Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder have both played their roles well also. The problem for the Thunder is finding production around those five. It’s a group of young players who aren’t quite ready and reclamation projects that have had mixed results. If OKC could get one or two more guys to step forward on a consistent basis, they could make a playoff push.
76ers at Nets
Philadelphia remains one of the NBA’s better teams, but there are issues. The Sixers are a mess closing games, mostly because they don’t have a ballhandler and go-to scorer to make plays when things get hectic late. Ben Simmons can handle the ball, but he rarely looks to score late in games. Tobias Harris can score, but he’s not a guy you can throw the ball to and ask him to make a play. Joel Embiid and Al Horford are limited because of the nature of bigs late in games. It’s not a problem with an easy solution either, as there isn’t a reasonable internal option to expect to step forward. All that said, the 76ers defense is elite and they’re really good when they can bully opponents into submission. It’s just certain matchups that get tough for them.
The Brooklyn Nets are 9-3 without Kyrie Irving and just 4-7 with him. That probably doesn’t mean anything, but Brooklyn looks a lot more like last year’s scrappy, fun bunch without Irving than they do with him. Spencer Dinwiddie has started without Irving in the lineup and is playing some terrific basketball for the Nets. They’re getting contributions up and down the roster again. Joe Harris is hitting 45.5% from behind the arc and Jarrett Allen is averaging a double-double. Irving was playing at a very high level before his shoulder issue, which should give Brooklyn hope for even more success when he gets back. But Kenny Atkinson is going to have to figure out how to achieve playing time balance when Irving and Caris LeVert are back, because sometimes less is more in an NBA rotation.